Day 3: 12 Days of Christmas Music 2012

Today we’re tapping into the centuries of Latin church music to commemorate the birth of Christ. This is “O Magnum Mysterium” by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), a Spanish composer of the Counter-Reformation. In answer to Reformation complaints about the excesses of polyphonic church music, one of the goals of the Counter-Reformation composers was to make the text of church music easier to understand as it was also polyphonic. And you can understand these words — that is, if you can understand Latin. If not, however, here you go:

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!


Remembering the victims in Sandy Hook yesterday, I’m including a second selection as well. This is “Requiem aeternum II” from Herbert Howells’ Requiem. Exactly when Howells (1892-1983) composed the work is not entirely known. He worked on it in some form in 1932 and used parts of that composition for a later, larger work, but it seems that the Requiem came at least in part out of the all-consuming grief Howells felt when, in 1935, his nine-year-old son Michael died suddenly of polio. By some accounts he composed the piece, and, in the words of my former choir conductor, “put it in a drawer and left it alone” as though it was too painful to publish or work with more. Several years, even decades later, it was published. It is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever sung. I hope you enjoy this selection from it. The text is below.

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon them.

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